Spotlight on Belpre Church: Pioneer Presbyterian

Motorists driving through Belpre at night might pass a little white church with a cross that glows from beneath, meant to be a welcoming symbol from the Pioneer Presbyterian Church, with a small congregation that dedicates itself to community and international outreach.

The church, located on Farson Street in Belpre just off Ohio 7, is nothing short of traditional, with a bell tower that points to the sky atop a gleaning white building.

The congregation of 40 people is similar to others found in small towns, but PPC prides itself on being extremely open and welcoming as well as having a big role to play in international and community outreach.

“I love the people here and know that everything I do here is touched by God,” said Bev Chapman, the church’s choir leader. “The choir does tough pieces, and one day they’ll say ‘We can’t do this’ and then Sunday comes and God shows that he’s here and it turns out great, every time.”

Though traditional, the church was formed just in 1983 at the Belpre Civitan Center, where a few founding members gathered to hold a service for Easter Sunday. The sanctuary and surrounding location was completed in 1989.

Pastor Rick Hastings came to the church just three years ago, and also serves as the pastor for Barlow Presbyterian Church.

“The openness of the members of the church sets us apart; we are very non-judgmental,” Hastings said. “We have folks from all walks of life, and they’re all very welcoming and they care about our community.”

That care extends to the work the church has done with Belpre Area Ministries, a local mission and collection of churches that provides a food pantry, help with utility and everyday expenses for those in need, and meals for families at Thanksgiving and Christmas; work with EVE providing gifts and necessary items; and adopting a child for Operation Christmas Child.

Unique to the PPC, however, is its relationship with the nation of Burkina Faso in Africa.

In 2007, church member Donna Gaston sent a shoe box as a part of Operation Christmas Child to a child at a school there, and when Gaston and the church received a thank you note back, the church decided to start something much larger.

“In 2009 a group of seven people went out there, and eventually got to build a school, which they named Suzanne de Belpre School in Baka Village after a member donated the money for it,” Hastings said.

The church has since formed a nonprofit called Building a Better Burkina.

“To date we have built a number of school buildings and provided food for about 250 students,” Hastings said.

Hastings said he knew the church had made a good choice when he took a flight to Dallas and met a man from Ghana on the plane, who was shocked when Hastings told him about the church’s mission in Burkina Faso.

“He about fell out of his chair; he could not believe we had a mission there, and he said ‘No one goes there,'” Hastings said. “It’s a place people forget about that needs help.”

Chapman said it is the church’s extensive outreach and welcoming nature that has kept her there since she found the church in 1990.

“There was an ‘invite a friend’ event here on a Monday that we came to then, and I’ve been here ever since,” she said. “It is truly a great place to be.”

The church’s new cross, which fills the space between the two street-facing windows, glows white from beneath, an addition completed toward the end of last year.

“It’s beautiful in the daytime, but at night it really draws you in,” Chapman said. “It is our dream that someone who is having a rough time could be driving by, look up, see it and find peace.”